Summer is typically a time for one to escape into a tropical paradise or explore a tourist hotspot; lo and behold, I have prided myself on being an atypical person. My summer vacation wasn’t with my family, but my school family, a group of 12 girls and 3 adult chaperones. It wasn’t for relaxation, but for backbreaking service through the Young Neighbors in Action program at the Winnebago Indian Reservation in Nebraska. And finally, it wasn’t a journey that can only be remembered through pictures, but it was a life changing experience that taught me lessons that I will live out for the rest of my life.
We were the only group from California; the other 6 were from Wisconsin. Needless to say, we had very different cultures, very different environments, and very different lifestyles. The next day and the day after, we were deployed to clean pow-wow grounds, a spiritually important place in the Omaha nation. It was shocking to see that despite being one of the most important places in the reservation, it was extremely littered and was never taken care of. The days blended together, both mundane, and spent in the heat and humidity with a plethora of bugs. It became frustrating to be unable to see results of our hard work. The next day, Wednesday, was a different experience: we went to an elder’s home in the community. Her house was overgrown with grass, weeds, and trees; she needed our help. Later that day, we were able to understand her history, and her life, which fueled our activity until the house was pristine. It honored me to be able to help her and her life. This marked the change from a mundane, frustrating experience to an enlightening, life changing one.
Everything became real on Wednesday night, through an activity highlighting the reality behind the poverty in the world. It truly humbled me, for realizing that poverty has a grip on the entire world and it took me 17 years to realize it. The next day, I felt an obligation to work as hard as I possibly could in an effort to fend off poverty in the Indian reservation. The latter half of the following day occurred in Walthill, cleaning up a creek. The trouble was that we could not touch the water because of the risk of infection, a sad reality in many places in the world. Afterwards, the program went to a pow-wow in Winnebago. It was a huge cultural immersion, and a nice break from the service we did every day. Moreover, it was incredible to realize that, in a month, the pow-wow grounds that we cleaned would result in the pow-wow we attended. The final day resulted in the emotionally hardest day of the week, in Walthill. We met many young children, specifically Lakota, Kiara, Jaylena, Junior, and Rowin. They all had the hugest spark of hope in their eyes, despite living in worse conditions than can be imagined. The hardest part was when they wanted us to come back, but we couldn’t; I felt like I had a huge responsibility, but couldn’t act on it, as I should have.
My adventure was one that many have not seen, let alone know. I discovered the heart attack of America, the sad underbelly and reality of a fading culture and lifestyle. It empowered me to ensure change and hope for both Native Americans and the world as a whole. I realized that even though there is a shadow over the Omaha Nation, there is always an opportunity for light to shine.
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